Successful supply runs for the Axis – November 1941

I think it was Kriebel, 1a (operations staff officer) of 15. Panzerdivision, or maybe von Mellenthin, 1c (intelligence staff officer) of Panzerarmee Afrika who claimed that fromthe destruction of the Duisburg (aka Beta) convoy on the night 8/9 November until the arrival of Ankara at Benghazi on 19 December, no supplies reached the Axis forces in North Africa.  This is not true.  While it is correct that until the successful M.42 operation on 19 December no major convoy came through, and that very important vessels were sunk, some vessels made it through.

First of all, there were the naval units carrying emergency supplies, as well as reinforcements (e.g. Sonderverband 288 arrived in parts on Italian destroyers).  See this older post for the emergency supply programme. Also, there were a few runs of purely civilian supply ships carrying food, coal and cement, and a run by the water tanker Leneo with water supplies for Tripoli harbour.

But at the same time, some small merchant convoys also made it through.  Below is a list of these, including their cargo.  The information is from the official history of the Italian Navy, Vol. VIII La Difesa del Trafico con L’Africa Settentrionale and various websites.  One should note that the Med was a very dangerous place to be at the time if one was in an Italian merchant.  Of the nine ships that made the run successfully, four were lost within the next six weeks, one of them on the return run, and one in harbour in North Africa while unloading.

The list may not be complete. Naval History Net’s Day-by-Day list at this link states that German steamer Brook and Italian trawler Amba Aradam, escorted by Tp Partenope arrived at Benghazi from Brindisi on 18 November. My current information is that this is not correct, but that it was instead a coastal convoy from Tripoli.  I’ll check it.

Supplies and reinforcements delivered on merchants during this period total as follows:

Tanks M13/40 24
Troops (Italian & German) 2,846
Vehicles and prime-movers 322
General stores and rations (military) 5,885 tons
Ammunition (Italian) 896 tons
Air force fuel 675 tons
Ammunition and various materials for the Germans 330 tons
General war stores for the Germans 3,383 tons
Undefined Up to 2,300 tons on Bolsena 1 December

Arrival dates, detailed cargoes and escorts as follows:

Arrival Date 16 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct da Verrazano (1)
Ct da Pigafetta
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Napoli (2)
Città di Genova
Cargo by ship Città di Napoli
General Supply and Rations 130 tons
Troops 697
Città di Genova
General Supply 60 tons
Rations 104 tons
Troops 562
Arrival Date 21 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct Zeno
Tp Partenope (3)
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Palermo
Cargo
General Supply 92 tons
Troops (Italian) 428
Troops (German) 260
Arrival Date 23 November
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Tp Orione
Ct Strale
Tinos (4)
Cargo by ship Bolsena
General Supply and Rations for the Italians 341 tons
Ammunition 395 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 5
Food and other Materials for the civilians 140 tons
Ammunition and various materials for the Germans 330 tons
Tinos
War stores for the German forces 3,383 tons
War stores for the Italian forces 14 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 4
Arrival Date 23 November
Location Tripoli
Escort(s) Ct Usodimare
Ct Saetta then from Tripoli
Ct Sebenico
Tp Centauro
Ship(s) Name(s) Fabio Filzi (5)
Cargo
General Supply and Rations 3,073 tons
Tanks M13/40 (Italian) 10
Vehicles and Prime Movers 123
Civilians 110
Troops 115
Fuel for the airforce in barrels 675 tons
Arrival Date 24 November (6)
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct Malocello
Ship(s) Name(s) Città di Tunisi
Cargo
General Supply 103 tons
Troops (Italian) 476
Troops (German) 289
Arrival Date 1 December
Location Benghazi
Escort(s) Ct da Verrazano
Ship(s) Name(s) Sebastiano Venier (7)
Cargo
General Supply 1968 tons
Troops (Italian) 19
Civilians 118
Ammunition 591 tons
Vehicles and Prime Movers 190
Tanks M13/40 14
Arrival Date 1 December
Location Tripoli
Escort(s) Tp Centauro
Ship(s) Name(s) Bolsena
Cargo No information but see above run for capacity.

Notes:

(1) Ct = Cacciatorpediniere, a larger destroyer, I think these would be Fleet Destroyers (large, well-armed, fast) in Royal Navy classification.
(2) The four Città vessels were classed as naval auxiliaries D1 to D4 and carried an armament of 4x120mm guns and AA equipment. They were relatively fast (19 knots for Genova and Palermo, 17 knots for Tunisi and Napoli) passenger/cargo ships with about 5,400 tons displacement. Only Città di Tunisi survived the war and was broken up in 1970ish.  Città di Palermo did not even survive CRUSADER, she was torpedoed and sunk with very heavy loss of life by HM Submarine Proteus (Lt.Cmdr. Francis) off the Greek island of Cephalonia on 5 January 1942.
(3) Tp = Torpediniere, a smaller destroyer, I think these would be Destroyer Escorts (small, medium armament, medium speed, designed for convoy duty) in Royal Navy classification.
(4) Tinos was bombed while in the harbour of Benghazi. Most of her freight (AA ammunition and bombs) could be salvaged however.
(5) Mn Fabio Filzi was a new ship, commissioned in 1940. She was a fast and large merchant (16 knots, 6,836 tons displacement), and clearly seen as a high-value addition to the Italian merchant fleet, judging by her escort. It did not help her much, she was lost off Taranto to HMS Upright, together with what looks like her sister Carlo de Greco, while carrying 45 German tanks and about 600 or so troops. 453 shipwrecked were rescued by the accompanying destroyers.
(6) Mn Città di Tunisi ran in convoy from Suda Bay with Città di Genova to arrive on 21 November, but suffered an engine breakdown and had to return to Suda Bay with Malocello. After fixing the malfunction she set out again. She was damaged by bombs on the return run, according to radio interception by the British Admiralty.
(7) Tragically, on the run back Sebastiano Venier was torpedoed by HM Submarine Porpoise (Lt. Cdr. E.F.Pizey DSO) and had to be beached on Navarino. Of about 1,800 British and Commonwealth POW she transported, over 300 were killed. There is a lot of detail on this tragedy at this link.